WASHINGTON – A Senate investigator testified Thursday that Bush administration official David Safavian contradicted himself last year on whether or not he accepted free travel from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff for a golf trip to Scotland.
Bryan Parker, an investigator for the Senate Indian affairs committee, told a U.S. District Court jury that early last March Safavian told him by telephone that "he had paid for his part on the ground but not including the air fare."
Parker was to be the last witness for the prosecution.
Abramoff chartered a Gulfstream jet for the August 2002 trip to the famed St. Andrews golf course in Scotland and on to London.
Parker said Safavian, who was chief of staff at the General Services Administration in 2002, also volunteered that GSA ethics officers had authorized him to take the trip because his ex-partner Abramoff had no business dealings with GSA.
Safavian is charged with concealing from the Senate and GSA officials the extent of his assistance to Abramoff, particularly just weeks before the trip on the lobbyist's efforts to acquire a piece of GSA land in Maryland for a school he started and to give an Indian tribe client a leg up on winning a GSA contract to redevelop the Old Post Office here.
But Parker said Safavian told a different story when he sent the Senate panel the ethics ruling on his trip and other documents March 17, 2005. In that letter, Safavian said even though the GSA ethics office said he could accept the free air travel — as Safavian had initially requested — he nevertheless gave Abramoff a check for the full cost, including air fare.
This $3,100 check was delivered to Abramoff at the beginning of the 2002 trip and Safavian's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, has said that Abramoff told Safavian that was his full share of all costs.
Prosecutors have scoffed at that notion and introduced evidence of $500-a-night hotel rooms, $100 rounds of drinks and $400 rounds of golf to suggest that it was obvious that each traveler's costs were much higher.
Parker also testified that Safavian never mentioned his contacts with Abramoff about the two GSA properties in three telephone calls, a letter and a packet of documents that purported to respond to the committee's request for any material related to the golf trip.
He testified he would have wanted to know about those for the Senate investigation because investigators had learned that some client fees from Indian tribes to Abramoff had helped pay for the trip.
Among others on the golf trip were Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and two of his aides. Prosecutors have introduced evidence that Ney was helping Abramoff in his efforts to obtain the land in Maryland.
Prosecutors also introduced a copy of a handwritten note on White House stationery that Safavian attached to his letter and packet of documents offering any additional assistance needed. In the intervening years, Safavian had been promoted from GSA to chief federal procurement officer at the Office of Management and Budget in the White House.
Van Gelder tried to suggest that Parker's interest in Safavian was outside the committee's jurisdiction, implying that if Safavian paid his way no Indian money benefited him.
She also pointed out that Parker never pursued the matter with Safavian, but he said he would have gotten to Safavian eventually had he not been indicted first.
Previously, two GSA ethics lawyers and an inspector general investigator said they too never heard from Safavian about his aid to Abramoff on the two GSA properties, would have wanted to know that and that it could have affected their decision to approve his trip and to close a later investigation of it.
Abramoff entered guilty pleas early this year in Washington and Florida.